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Minimum Legal Drinking Age: Advantages & Disadvantages of Twenty-first Amendment

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There are many monumental ages in a person’s life. When you turn thirteen you are a teenager, at sixteen you can get your license, when you turn eighteen you are officially an adult, and at the age of twenty-one, you are of the legal age to drink in the United States. However, this is not the case everywhere in the world. Since at eighteen you are given heavy responsibility, like the legal ability to vote and smoke among other things, you are considered an adult. In other parts of the world, this deems you worthy enough to consume alcohol, so the drinking age in the United States should be lowered to eighteen.

Following the end of Prohibition, the Twenty-First Amendment, also known as the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) was passed. This amendment reinstated the consumption of alcohol in America for ages twenty-one and up only, for the first time in history. In the 1970s when the Vietnam War began, the government needed more citizens to draft which meant that the age to be able to fight in the war had to be lowered. Along with this, came the lowering of the drinking age as a rite of passage for these eighteen-year-olds who were serving in the war. By 1984, President Ronald Reagan decided to once again raise the drinking age to twenty-one or else, by law, all of the states would lose up to ten percent of federal highway funding. In other countries, the age of eighteen and even younger still applies to those who want to partake in the use of alcohol. In fact, roughly 77% of countries across the world have a legal drinking age of eighteen or younger. There have been very few negative consequences since the establishment of these laws worldwide. In places such as the United Kingdom, for example, there has been a fifty percent decrease in alcohol-related accidents compared to a mere twenty-six percent decrease in the United States. 

This occurred between the years of 1982 and 1992, right after the United States changed the legal drinking age back to twenty-one. Not only were results like these seen in the United Kingdom, but they were also seen in France, China, Germany, and even Israel, all with less alcohol-related driving incidents than in the United States. This means that even though there may have been decreases in fatal accidents caused by alcohol around the world, there were significantly more decreases in these accidents in European countries with a lower drinking age than in America. Perhaps this could be contributed to the fact that countries with a lower drinking age are educating youth about the dangers of drinking and the responsibilities that it entails. Australia uses a program that teaches youth about drinking responsibly so that they are educated on the subject at an early age. The reason there is so much binge drinking in America, especially with adolescents, is because we lack education regarding the effects of alcohol. There is a lot of underage drinking in the country, and it is not being done responsibly because it is not being taught correctly, if at all. Drinking is considered a taboo topic in America causing so many under the age of twenty-one to be uneducated on the subject. If the United States were to raise awareness on important matters like the consequences of being irresponsible when drinking, teenagers who already may drink illegally or even those that are older, would be more inclined to be safe while doing it. Something like this could drastically change the statistics of the United States and the problems it has associated with alcohol, likely making a decrease in the incidents as evidenced in Europe.

The age of twenty-one was originally used as the legal drinking age because for centuries past it was English Common Law that at the age of twenty-one one would be able to vote and become a knight. Now, other countries consider the age of adulthood eighteen and the United States should do so as well. The rights and responsibilities of an adult are as follows and are not limited to: the right to vote, to smoke, serve on juries, get married, join the military, and be prosecuted as an adult. Being able to participate in the outcomes of the country, especially if one of those outcomes is war, means that you are of an age with tremendous responsibility. War is life-threatening and can lead to future problems and disabilities. Smoking, much like drinking, is another “perk” of becoming an adult with very similar dangers. Smoking can lead to addiction, cancer, and depression at the very least. If one can be eighteen and put themselves at risk for these types of problems, then there is no difference between these risks and that of drinking. The effects of both are relatively similar. 

Additionally, many eighteen-year-olds will likely choose to further their education by going to college. College is the time you can experience living on your own and providing for yourself. This may include paying bills, doing taxes, applying for loans, and more. All of these tasks are major responsibilities that can be handled by an eighteen-year-old adult and alcohol could be one of these responsibilities. Those who are against underage drinking may argue that States that increased the legal drinking age to twenty-one saw a 16% median decline in motor vehicle crashes. This may be true, but when the MLDA was passed many of the other laws we have today were completely different than they were at this time or nonexistent, especially with driving. It has been shown that the real reasons for the decrease in drunk driving fatalities is primarily due to increased public awareness, increased police focus, and increased judicial penalties for those found guilty of drunk driving. Therefore, it cannot be fully based on the fact of a raised drinking age, considering that so many factors could go into one problem rather than just age. This is a proven fact because, “since 1982, two years prior to the Uniform Drinking Age Act establishing an MLDA of 21, a decline of drunk driving fatalities occurred across all age groups and demographic categories, and therefore cannot be reliably attributed to MLDA 21”. So even if there was a decline, it could not be directly related to a person who was under the age of twenty-one. Every demographic was responsible for these fatalities. The MLDA law was passed almost forty years ago, and so much has changed since then. Being responsible or irresponsible has nothing to do with your age. It is true that being able to drink alcohol is a big responsibility, but as an adult, one should be ready for it.

Eighteen-year-olds all over the country are considered responsible enough to carry out many significant tasks; however, in the United States, one of those tasks does not include being allowed to drink. This can lead to rebellion and an adrenaline rush that is linked to doing something that one is not supposed to. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, underage drinking accounts for 17.5% of consumer spending for alcohol in the United States. For an illegal action, the percentage seems significantly high. Teenagers and young adults alike crave danger. Adolescents have brains that have not yet reached full maturity. The brain may mature first in emotions and feelings, rather than rational thought, which is why impulsive decisions are made. This is often why teens rebel against their parents especially when they do not get their way. Every no is a yes, so if the law is telling the underage youth that they are not to drink, they are going to want to do the opposite. 

These are some of the same effects as Prohibition: over-indulgence, disrespect for the law, secrecy and sneaking, and a massive diversion of human energy, which could be easily avoided. Of course, some of these problems could be avoided if businesses had a no-tolerance policy for breaking the law, but this is not the case. Private residences and off-campus bars are the most frequently visited places for heavy drinking among underage college students. This means that not only is drinking going on in the homes of underage adolescents, but it is also going on within knowing establishments. From a business perspective, it makes sense to not shy away from a way to make money even if it is technically illegal. “The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the New York State Liquor Authority found that 58% of the licensed alcohol retailers in the New York City sold alcohol to underage decoys”. They most likely see an unknowing college student and think of them as a way to make more money by giving something that is a rarity to them. This also means that they are able to raise their prices substantially. 

Breaking the law is now not only helping the consumer, but also the one selling the product to them. Furthermore, the law is encouraging the administration of fake IDs which are a far bigger problem than just breaking the drinking law when used. If your ID is not true to your identity, it can cause national security concerns like terrorism, illegal immigration, and more. These are heavily controversial topics that are causing a further uproar all because of a law that limits the consumption of alcohol to someone under the age of twenty-one. Peer pressure is another contributor. Being a teen, in high school specifically, is very stressful. This is a time when your surroundings heavily influence you because you are so vulnerable. “The 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System found that among high school students, 33% drank alcohol and 18% binge drank during the past 30 days”, which shows that this problem is not uncommon. On top of that, 72% of kids will try alcohol by the time they leave high school. This is a significant majority. The stress and peer pressure that is brought about in high school mixed with the easy access to alcohol due to fake IDs and complicit businesses could be enough to make adolescents begin drinking well before the law allows it.

A popular belief of underage drinking is that it causes a bigger risk of crime, unplanned pregnancies, and death. However, “in a 2002 meta-study of the legal drinking age and health and social problems, 72% of the studies found no statistically significant relationship that lowering the MLDA to 18 would increase criminal activities by adolescents”. By this, Nelson and Wechsler are proving that the negative connotation received with underage drinking is false. Statistically, the reality is that laws will be broken no matter what. The harmful consequences of drinking also are not what people may believe either. If the biggest risk in underage drinking is the chance of getting caught, then adolescents will continue to drink. So long as all teens are participating, businesses are on board, and punishments are not being doled out, the underage drinking epidemic will continue.

Drinking has and will always be an extremely controversial and taboo topic not only just in the United States, but around the world. Although some believe that making the legal age of alcohol consumption twenty-one was a good thing because of fewer risks, there may be more dangers associated with it. A drinking age of eighteen has had proven success in other countries and could be the same if we began to educate our youth more on the dangers of alcohol. Likewise, the problem of drinking will always be there simply due to rebellion, as well as easy access and minimal consequences. Eighteen-year-olds are considered adults and prove their responsibility every day after by providing for themselves and even contributing to the well-being of the country by participating in the war and voting. Perhaps America should lower the drinking age to make their adulthood just a little bit easier. 

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Minimum Legal Drinking Age: Advantages & Disadvantages of Twenty-First Amendment. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/minimum-legal-drinking-age-advantages-disadvantages-of-twenty-first-amendment/
“Minimum Legal Drinking Age: Advantages & Disadvantages of Twenty-First Amendment.” GradesFixer, 24 May 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/minimum-legal-drinking-age-advantages-disadvantages-of-twenty-first-amendment/
Minimum Legal Drinking Age: Advantages & Disadvantages of Twenty-First Amendment. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/minimum-legal-drinking-age-advantages-disadvantages-of-twenty-first-amendment/> [Accessed 29 Jun. 2022].
Minimum Legal Drinking Age: Advantages & Disadvantages of Twenty-First Amendment [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 May 24 [cited 2022 Jun 29]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/minimum-legal-drinking-age-advantages-disadvantages-of-twenty-first-amendment/
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